Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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Avoiding added sugar and its negative affects

Sugar.157541706By Courtney Baechler, MD

Increasingly, we see reports on the negative affects of sugar. Just last month, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine linked sugar to increased risks of heart disease.

For years, a variety of experts emphasized that high-fat diets are the strongest culprits of heart disease. Food companies quickly manufactured fat-free foods that were extremely high in sugar – think fat-free cookies, crackers and oversized bagels. This led to a fat-free epidemic, and large increases in the amount of sugar people are eating and the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

What happens when we eat foods with a lot of added sugar?

As we digest these sugars, they are quickly metabolized and tend to spike our blood sugar quickly. The pancreas then quickly releases insulin to decrease our blood sugar levels. Over time, this may lead to decreased insulin production and sensitivity, which in turn can lead to type 2 diabetes.

High levels of sugar also create inflammation in our body. When those high sugar levels hang around, they turn into fat or triglycerides, which are one part of our cholesterol or lipid (fat) profile. This is perfect storm for sticky blood vessels, and leads to increases in both our weight and risk of heart disease.

How can we decrease our sugar intake?

  • Start by getting rid of soda pop. Soda pop contributes to one-third of all the sugar we intake as a nation. You might be surprised, but the average 12-ounce can of pop has nine teaspoons of sugar which on average is more than most grown men and women should have in a day.
  • Keep an eye out for what might be added to your “energy drink.” Often, there is as much sugar added to energy drinks as soda pop.
  • The other big culprits are candies and yogurts. The yogurt is a surprise for most of my patients. I will have many patients tell me that they have a turkey sandwich and a yogurt for lunch. Most think, that sounds alright, right? Think again, many name-brand yogurts have a large amount of added sugar. Many of the “100 calorie-light yogurts” have 26 grams of sugar! Not so healthy after all. Your bread might have a lot of added sugar, too.
  • Start reading food labels. Conveniently, the FDA has moved to make it even easier to read the added sugar content in years to come with the recognition of how important decreasing our sugar content is.
  • Don’t be alarmed or think that you need to stop eating fruit. Fruit has “natural sugars,” which are just fine and also has fiber that helps slow the release of sugar. It’s the added sugars that cause trouble.

On that note, I hope this helps demystify the sugar story some. If you want to learn more, check out our story on KARE 11 news or the original study from JAMA.

Stay well and go light on the added sugar!

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.


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Live well, live happy: The role of relationships in happiness

83496526_mother_daughter_web.happiness.relationships.blogBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part two in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched in January with  “Live well, live happy.”

Studying what makes us truly happy is a fairly recent endeavor. For decades, scientists studied unhappy people and mental illness.

Then along came positive psychology with the notion, “Hey! Why don’t we study people who are really happy and satisfied?” Just as wellness is not merely the absence of disease, so happiness is not simply the absence of mental illness.

The good news is that your happiness depends a tiny bit on circumstances and vast amounts on what we do with those circumstances.

One of the most overwhelming findings is that happy people are deeply connected to others and conversely that deeply connected people are happier. These folks have rich, strong and soul satisfying relationships. It’s important to note that anyone can attain this.

Think for a moment about the best times in your life— your high points and proud moments. If you are like most people, these moments were spent with others, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.

Now think about receiving some good or bad news. What is your first impulse? I’m guessing that it is to share this news with someone close to you. Remember the saying that a close relationship can multiply the joys and halve the sorrows? It turns out to be true.

At the time of this writing, one of my best friends is in hospice with days to live. He is not surrounded by his many degrees, a bank account statement, his car or other stuff. He is instead encircled by family members, friends and loved ones who in turn are blessed by each other and by his strong yet gentle spirit. He has led a good and satisfying life and though there is sadness, there is celebration at what his life has meant.

As you look to boost your happiness through relationships consider that not only will they support your happiness, they may enhance your health through:

  • an enhanced immune system
  • reduction in inflammation
  • reduction in heart disease and high blood pressure
  • lower mortality
  • significant reduction in stress.

Here are some proven and practical ways to build relationships:

  • Make time. In our hyper-scheduled world, this may feel impossible. If that is the case, consider how much time you spend each week on your computer, smart phone or watching TV. Can you spare any of that time for a relationship?
  • Be present. For many of us, our phones have become an appendage. Are you fully present for your loved ones? Research shows benefits of being together even without talking, such as walking together or listening to music.
  • Express admiration, appreciation and affection directly. Even though “I love you” is the most obvious, other phrases can go a long way including: “I appreciate that you make coffee every morning for me,” “I am so proud and excited about what you are doing with your art,” or “I love knowing that I get to have lunch with you!” Additionally, resolving to react actively and constructively to your friends’ news will build strong bonds. “I am thrilled for you — that promotion is well deserved and you earned it!”

Here’s to building your health and happiness through your relationships — what a joyous route!

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.

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Exercise tips for sleeping well

SleepPhoto.StockImage.pngThis article originally ran in the LiveWell newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

According to Sue Masemer, MS, sleep is usually not the primary reason that leads people to seek out exercise programs at the LiveWell Fitness Center, but that doesn’t mean that sleep isn’t related to overall fitness.

“Our clients often aren’t aware of the significant connection between quality sleep and exercise, and how great of an impact poor sleep may be playing in derailing their fitness efforts,” said Masemer.

Although the science of how exercise helps you sleep better is not fully understood, researchers do believe that it may have to do with temperature changes in the body that occur during and following exercise. The body’s temperature normally increases slightly as the day progresses and starts to decreases in the evening. It is assumed that this decrease in temperature may signal the body that it is time to sleep.

“The idea of exercising to gain more energy is somewhat counter-intuitive to people,” said Masemer. “After becoming more active, people often find that they have more energy throughout the day and actually feel more sluggish when they aren’t physically active. Consistent exercise has been shown to lengthen, deepen and improve the overall quality of sleep.”

Tips on how to incorporate exercise into your day to achieve a better night’s sleep

  • Figure out what suits your body best. As a general rule, people are usually encouraged to avoid high-intensity exercise within two to four hours of going to bed. This may make it more difficult to sleep as well as not allow the body enough time to cool itself down. Research suggests that for most people exercise in the late afternoon or early evening may work best for sleep enhancement. The key is to remember that exercise at any time is better than not exercising at all and you need to determine what works best for you with your sleep schedule.
  • Give yourself time. For people with significant sleep issues, it may take months to establish a quality sleep pattern. The benefits of exercise may not be seen right away, but they are there. Work with an exercise professional to determine the type and intensity level of an exercise program that works best for you.
  • If you can’t sleep, try gentle movement. If you suffer from insomnia and restlessness, you can try getting up and doing some light stretches, gentle yoga, or movement such as tai chi or qigong. Try this in a dimly lit place so that you don’t over stimulate your body.
  • Winter months are difficult for many. Really listen to your body. Try to think in terms of 10- to 20-minute blocks of exercise instead of half-hour or hour-long timeframes. Know that the benefits of exercise are cumulative. Research has shown that three, 10-minute activity sessions spread throughout your day are as effective as one 30-minute session.
  • Discover the hidden benefits of exercise through a fitness profile. At the LiveWell Fitness Center, a fitness profile includes a health history including complete muscular strength, flexibility, body fat and muscular endurance tests, along with a cardiovascular fitness assessment to establish ideal exercise levels and heart rate. The power of exercise is evident even during the assessment, as many people will discover that it is much easier to meet their goals and health needs when it is approached safely and is customized to meet your lifestyle. The results from a fitness profile are helpful to determine the best fitness plan for you, which may help you with sleep issues.

Sue Masemer, MS, is an exercise physiologist and manager of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. To make an appointment or learn more about the programs and services offered by the LiveWell Fitness Center, call 612-863-5178.

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Nurturing creativity

113722870.PaintedHandsBy Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC

Creating art was an essential part of my youth. If I wasn’t taking or painting pictures, I was writing stories. Art school was an obvious choice for me. In 1979, I graduated from college in Moorhead, Minn. with a double major in fine arts and art education.

Then I moved to Minneapolis, and spent the next ten years creating art, working with galleries and exhibition spaces, and, yes, sometimes being the “starving artist.”

A few family complications later, and I found that I had to get a “real job,” or at least find a regular source of income. Healing and wellness had also always been a deep interest so I began to “reschool” in wellness and healing arts.

I have continued to write and create art even with less time to put a pen to a page or a brush to a canvas. But I have learned that creativity does not always need to be about creating art. It can be used in all aspects of life. Art and creativity can even be an act of wellness and healing.

When faced with any “blank canvas” in life, meaning any endeavor with an unknown outcome, you can follow these steps to nurture your creativity:
1. Be present. I have adapted an exercise called, “Morning Pages,” from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Cameron recommends doing three pages of long-hand, stream-of-conciousness writing first thing in the morning. She says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. … They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. [They] provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

You don’t have to write three full pages. Begin by writing for five to 10 minutes. It can help you feel anchored and face the day with clarity.

2. Do creative work in the morning. The creative impulse is fresher and clearer in the morning.

3. Forget about talent. What will the outcome be? Will anyone like it? Those are questions that can suppress the creative spirit. Try to start a creative process without detailed outcomes.

4. Stay open. There really are no dumb ideas. Go ahead and make a mistake. Often mistakes lead to new breakthroughs.

5. Keep it simple. Leave the details for later. Trust that they will fall into place. The creative spark is a time for simplicity. Most painters start with a broad simple sketch on the blank canvas before any paint is used.

6. Manage anxiety. Anxiety can be the subject of paintings and writing but it is hard to create when the artist is in a state of anxiety. Regular yoga, breath work and meditation can help with anxiety reduction.

7. Be brave. All of the above suggestions need a bit of bravery. Forget what others think.

8. Have fun. The creative process is closely aligned with having fun. Joy is a creative state of mind.

There is no such thing as “being more creative.” You already are creative. The creative spark lives in all of us and can be nurtured with intentional practice. And anyone on a healing journey can use a brave creative spirit, allowing room for new solutions and broadening the breadth of discovery.

Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC, is the Art of Healing program manger and a learning and Development specialist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

For more information on art and healing, read LiveWell blog entry, “Art as an act of healing.”